Heartwarming lunar adventure
With a award winning team to back him, one would imagine that director Glen Keane would have made a stellar production, yet the expertise of those involved in masterpieces like ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Aladdin’ and’Beauty and the Beast’ seems to have backfired in this production as it has nothing new to offer and reminds us strongly of other movies which had been made a good number of years ago.
Fei Fei is a girl who suffers the terrible grief of losing her mother at a young age. Four years later, her father has moved on and is considering marrying again. Fei Fei struggles to digest this information as she has not yet processed the loss of her mother. Now she’s being asked to welcome another woman into that role, along with an annoying potential stepbrother.
Though she panics, her only console is to basically explore her mother’s favourite legend about a moon goddess who is waiting there for the return of her lost love. She builds a rocket and takes off into the stars, sucked into a magical world of helpful dragons and bright creatures inspired by the Chinese tradition of the Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival. In visual terms, this is a space trip as imagined by someone on a bulk candy bender, splashed with more vibrant colours than we typically see on the gray orb.
When Fei Fei gets to the moon, she finds the legendary Chang’e, but she’s not exactly welcoming. Insisting that Fei Fei must bring her a gift, our heroine is sent on a quest—find the mysterious gift, which will be exchanged for a photo to prove the existence of Chang’e. If Fei Fei can show that the legend of a woman who has waiting centuries for the return of her love is true than maybe dad wait a little bit longer to replace Fei Fei’s mother.
For as long as children’s animation has existed, it has been used to confront how children process grief. It’s one of the greatest changes that a child can face, and the best family entertainment addresses it without talking down to young people. ‘Over the Moon’ doesn’t exactly talk down, but it clutters its serious themes every chance it gets. The music is generally forgettable, though a song near the end that directly addresses loss is easily the most powerful in the film because it’s the first time the movie feels like it calms down and confronts what it should have been about instead of throwing flashy colours in pursuit of dull quest storytelling. There’s a tenderness in some of the beats near the conclusion that one wishes the rest of the movie leaned into instead of just hurtling itself through the stars.
It also doesn’t help that the visuals of ‘Over the Moon’ are so polished and refined that it resembles a video game more than cinematic animation that stands the test of time. It’s rich with colour but thin on actual detail. It’s the vast difference between something that tries to numb kids with constant motion and something that trusts their young audience to meet them halfway.
It can feel a bit curmudgeonly to come down on an animated musical about a girl grieving the loss her mother. Especially for families dealing with so much pain and grief in 2020, ‘Over the Moon’ could be the kind of fable they need to help process what’s going unspoken in their lives.